By Sarah Costa, CMT
One of the unique therapies that we offer at HOPE Wellness Institute is infant massage. Massage therapy has been beneficial to countless families who have come to us with infants that had nursing problems, colic, fussy temperaments, sleeping problems, and failure to thrive. HOPE Wellness Institute has a long and distinguished track record in the Sacramento area when it comes to infant massage therapy; having worked with lactation consultants, midwives, and doctors to find solutions that are outside the standard medical solutions. One of the ways we help families is by teaching them how to do infant massage themselves.
There are wonderful ways that parents can integrate infant massage into their child’s daily routines. The benefits of infant massage have been scientifically researched and documented within recent years, as well as being used and espoused by generation after generation within many Asian cultures. According to Dee Davis of Virginia, a Certified Educator of Infant Massage for more than twenty years, there are four benefit categories for infant massage: interaction, relaxation, relief and stimulation.
Interaction. We are familiar with the benefits of touch; that the bond of parent and child is established and developed through touch. Touch is one of the first languages through which our babies learn that they are loved and safe. Massage can become a structured way in which you set time aside for your infant to build a relationship through touch. Babies get a chance to learn faces, sounds, smells and the unique touch of their parents. For a working parent that has limited time with their infants, massage can be a great source of bonding time. For babies that required additional hospitalization following birth, this is especially beneficial.
Relaxation. This is probably the most common reason why parents use massage now without even realizing it. What are we naturally inclined to do when an infant can’t sleep or is agitated? Rub their foreheads or backs? Slow rhythmic strokes can help soothe and calm. Babies that are soothed in this way are more inclined to be able to calm themselves when faced with stressful situations. Massage also promotes deeper and more relaxing sleep.
Relief. There are many instances when an infant’s discomfort can be eased through massage: constipation, reflux, growing pains, muscular tension, physical and psychological tension, and teething discomfort. During this type of massage, the body releases oxytocin and serotonin, both of which are ‘feel good’ hormones. The body also shows a lowered level of cortisol and norepinephrin which are ‘stress’ related hormones.
Stimulation. Not all massage has to be soft and soothing. You can use stimulating strokes to improve blood and lymphatic circulation. The brain can benefit from stimulating strokes as they encourage the growth of myelin sheathing around neurons, giving massaged babies a boost in learning and the ability to focus.
Here are some tips on how to start integrating infant massage into your daily routine:
- Set aside a quiet time during which both you and your infant are relaxed, yet not sleepy.
- Make sure all distractions are eliminated, like the TV. Play quiet background music.
- Try to avoid scented oils so that baby and parent can learn each other’s scent. Natural vegetable-based oils are recommended.
- Remember that this is about bonding – get close to your baby, let them see and hear you.
- If you choose to establish a routine you can start with the legs, move to the arms, chest, face and then the back. Use gently, rhythmic strokes.
- Watch and respond to the parts that your baby enjoys. Use patience and work slowly if they are resistant – you don’t want them to associate massage with discomfort.
- Over time you can work up to massaging your infant for 20 minutes a day.